- The Washington Times - Sunday, February 12, 2006

Getting married and staying married increases life expectancy by about eight or nine years, according to federal death records.

But the poets are wrong to suggest ‘tis better to have loved and lost. Divorced people have the shortest life span of all.

Married men who died in 2003 had an average life span of 77.6 years, well above the 69.2-year average among men who’ve never married and 67.1-year average among divorced men, according to data from 2.2 million death certificates released this month by the National Center for Health Statistics.

Women enjoyed a similar wedlock bonus. Married women lived an average of 81 years, a significant improvement over the 77.4-year average among the never-wed and the 72-year average among divorcees.

“The pathways through which marriage protects people may be different between men and women,” said Maggie Gallagher, president of the Institute for Marriage and Public Policy. “Married men behave in more responsible ways, while single men take more risks by hanging out in bars late at night, drinking too much, not eating properly.

“But for women, there are more subtle advantages like the financial benefits of marriage, better access to health care and generally less stress and fewer economic worries,” Miss Gallagher said.

The life expectancy boost from matrimony occurs among all racial and socioeconomic groups.

Black men live an average of seven years longer if they get married, and married Asian women live more than six years longer than Asian women who’ve never wed. The smallest matrimonial gap occurs among married white women, who gain only two years over the average life span of never-wed Caucasian women.

College graduates, both men and women, live an average of 78.1 years if they were married, 74.4 years if never married and 68.4 years if divorced and never remarried.

Health experts have long recognized the benefits of marriage.

William Farr, a pioneering English statistician who collaborated with Florence Nightingale to promote medical reforms, first noticed the trend 150 years ago. His study of French death certificates concluded that married people — especially men — were significantly longer lived.

“Marriage is a healthy estate,” Farr wrote in 1858. “The single individual is more likely to be wrecked on his voyage than the lives joined together in matrimony.”

But health statisticians for decades debated what are the causes and the effects. Does marriage really make us healthy? Or are healthy people more likely to get married then are sickly people?

“You’d expect that healthy men are more attractive than unhealthy men and so better able to attract mates and maintain relationships,” said California statistician Stan Panis, who studied the issue for the Rand Corp. “But it turns out the opposite is often true. Men seek the protections that marriage offers, especially if they are in poor health.”

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